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Speech by SED at HKETO's reception in Melbourne (English only)
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     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Education, Mr
Michael Suen, at reception hosted by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office at Melbourne City Town Hall in Melbourne today (December 2, Melbourne time):

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     Good evening.  It is a great pleasure to be in Melbourne and to have the opportunity to speak to you today.

     I thank our Economic and Trade Office for hosting this event and for providing an interesting programme for my visit to Australia.

     As you may know, I am in Melbourne for the International Education Leaders' Dialogue. The 2008 Melbourne Dialogue is a valuable opportunity for educational leaders from all over the world to come together and share their experiences and challenges of education reform and development.  

     In the next few minutes I will talk about our education system in Hong Kong and outline the extensive reform process we have undertaken to keep pace with the changing local, regional and international environment.

     I will also say a few words about the global financial crisis and what we are doing to keep our economy on track.

     First, education.  In the past decade or so our education system has gone through a period of significant change to address the challenges of the 21st Century.

     A couple of the main points include extending free public primary and secondary education from 9 years to 12 years. This was introduced at the beginning of the current school year in September.

     Next September we will introduce a new academic structure which will include three years senior secondary education and a four-year undergraduate programme at tertiary education level. The aim here is to give our students a broader knowledge base at the higher education level to support more specialised learning íV just the sort of training we will need to achieve our goal of sustainable development.

     We are also working with our vibrant international schools sector to help them meet the growing demand for places by expanding existing schools or providing sites for new buildings. We have more than 50 international schools that offer a variety of curricula to students from around the world, including the Australian International School.

     Education takes up the single largest share of government expenditure.  In recent years we have spent more than AUS$10 billion (HK$50 billion) on education annually. That accounts for almost a quarter of our total recurrent expenditure.  This year, we estimate that education spending will rise to about AUS$16 billion.  

     We are also opening the door wider to overseas students so they can also benefit from our world-class universities and the unique experience of an education on China's doorstep. Hong Kong's integration with the Mainland is a great attraction for students who see opportunities from our nation's increasingly high-profile role in international business and finance.

     We have relaxed the quota for non-local students at our universities and changed the immigration rules to allow overseas students to take up part-time work and internships during their studies. They can also remain in Hong Kong for up to a year after they finish their courses so they have plenty of time to find the right job.

     At the same time, many of our own students see the benefits of studying overseas to broaden their outlook and experience different cultures. Of course, Australia is a popular study destination. Last year, there were about 16,000 Hong Kong students studying in this country, the 6th largest overseas student population in Australia.

     As well as attending world-class universities here, our students enjoy the Australian lifestyle, culture and excitement of living abroad. Many of them return to Hong Kong after their studies well-equipped to make the most of the opportunities available to them.

     Another strong area of co-operation between Hong Kong and Australia is about research and development. The institutions funded by our University Grants Committee are collaborating with institutions in Australia on more than 200 research projects across a wide range of academic disciplines. No less than 48 of these projects are conducted with institutions in Melbourne.  In his Budget in February, the Financial Secretary set aside about AUS$3.75 billion for a research endowment fund to support R&D activities at our tertiary institutions.  I am confident that this will help to boost our R&D capabilities and provide more scope for co-operation between our two cities.  

     Before closing, I would like to give you a brief update on what we are doing to generate new opportunities in the current uncertain economic environment.

     In October, we established a Task Force on Economic Challenges chaired by the Chief Executive. The Task Force comprises some of our most prominent leaders in business, finance, education and other fields. They are looking into the impact of the economic downturn on different areas of our economy. The Task Force will also propose ways to make sure we are quick to seize the opportunities that will undoubtedly arise from the financial crisis.

     We have also taken a series of steps to boost confidence in our financial markets by guaranteeing all bank deposits and making additional capital available to banks should they require it. We are also making use of large-scale infrastructure projects and smaller-scale ones to help create jobs and sustain economic activities.   

     Ladies and gentlemen, although we are experiencing some of the most difficult economic times of our generation, I am pleased to say that Hong Kong's fundamental strengths remain sound. We remain committed to our open market policies; free trade and a free flow of talent, ideas and information.

     I encourage closer links between Hong Kong and Australia in education so that our students of today can become our leaders of tomorrow.

     Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Issued at HKT 19:06

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